The Retro-Printer is a small module from Retro-Computer specialist, RWAP Software, which works together with a Raspberry Pi to provide an easy to use, low cost interface to allow you to connect a centronics port on older (vintage) computers and equipment to any modern printer such as a USB or network printer.

Easily connect anything from a DOS program, or a Sinclair QL Home computer, or even an industrial lathe to a modern, low-cost printer.

What is the Retro-Printer?

The Retro-Printer Module connected to Raspberry Pi

The Retro-Printer Module connected to the Raspberry Pi makes for a compact centronics to USB printer

Designed as a plug in module for the Raspberry Pi computer, the Retro-Printer is designed to provide a low cost means for vintage computers and industrial equipment to connect easily to the latest USB and network printers on the market, rather than being limited to a small number of expensive dot-matrix printers or top end laser printers.

It forms a hardware alternative to the software based DOS Application Printers which rely on DOS being run inside a dos box under Microsoft Windows, so that they can re-direct the DOS printer port; thus providing a solution for computers and equipment on which Microsoft Windows is not the operating system.

The Retro-Printer provides a low-cost hardware solution for capturing printer data sent to the parallel port by the widest range of computers, industrial equipment and machinery and has been developed by RWAP Software, a business which has been supporting retro computers since 1986.

Why is the Retro-Printer required?

Many retro computers were designed at a time when dot-matrix, daisywheel and impact printers were prevalent. A lot of industrial equipment (and DOS based application software) was also designed to make full use of these printers and use the same printing methods as those early computers.

Many of these printers used the ESC/P printer control language (made popular by Epson) and printing was as simple as connecting a printer to a parallel port (or a serial port), and sending a string of plain text to the port. The printer control language then told the printer if you wished to output text in bold, italics or a different font, and this was all handled by the printer. As a result there are 1000s of DOS based programs and industrial equipment which simply expect to send their output to the parallel port and for a connected printer to create a physical copy.

When Microsoft Windows took the market by storm in the 1990s, printer manufacturers seized on the opportunity to make printers dumb and most printers available to purchase today are GDI Printers.

A GDI printer or Winprinter is a printer designed to accept output from a host computer running the Graphic Design Interface (GDI) under Windows, Mac OS-X or Linux. The host computer is responsible for all print processing and then uses the GDI software to send a bitmap of the printed page to the printer using a printer driver normally supplied by the printer manufacturer.

Because non-GDI printers require hardware, firmware, and memory for page rendering; a GDI printer is cheaper to produce, but unfortunately, this means that a GDI printer cannot be used easily with non-standard operating systems, or even a lot of DOS programs.  These printers cannot even understand a simple line of ASCII text characters sent to them such as the standard test “HELLO WORLD”.

This left users with several choices:

  • Upgrade to new software (or use an alternative program) which can run on the latest operating system and use its in-built printer drivers
  • Purchase an expensive dot-matrix or top-end laser printer which supports plain text and DOS software (these are increasingly hard to find and generally cost upwards of £200.
  • Track down second hand printers which could be used as a direct replacement whilst risking the availability of replacement ink cartridges / ribbons and spare parts.
  • Disable printing altogether

Those who are running a DOS based application program which can run as part of Windows 95 or later, do also have the choice of using one of serveral software solutions out there (such as QPCPrint and Printfil) which capture the data sent by to the parallel port (LPT1 to LPT9) and then redirect it to a connected GDI printer using Windows to perform all of the hard work.

Using software can be a convenient solution, but unfortunately this is not suitable in all situations, and hence the Retro-Printer was born, providing a plug-in hardware solution for all applications.

For example, Retro-Printer is the ideal method of connecting vintage computers, such as the BBC-Micro, an Amstrad CPC or the Commodore Amiga to a modern all-in one printer, rather than using a 30 year old Daisywheel printer.  Retro-Printer can also be simply plugged into the parallel port (using an existing centronics cable or interface) on an industrial PLC (or other equipment) to enable simple printing of monitoring reports to a low cost, reliable laserjet printer located on a network somewhere else in the building, or even just to capture the output and store it as a series of PDF files or plain text files on an SD card or a connected USB stick.

The captured data can even be stored in the original printer format, which can be useful (for example) for capturing HP PCL printer files, which could then be converted to PDF for archiving, using your own copy of Ghostscript.

The possibilities are countless!

Continue reading – What does the Retro-Printer do?

Latest News About the Retro-Printer

2017 – Looking forward to the launch

Having taken into account all of the feedback from our beta testers, we have now created a new version of the Retro-Printer PCB, which should be in our hands by March 2017. This incorporates various issues around ground and voltage

March 2016 Update on the Retro Printer

After a short break and sifting through the feedback from our beta-testers, one thing which has emerged is that the Retro-Printer hardware and software appears to work well with various computers. One American beta tester has an application where his

November 2015 – 100% Functionality Getting Nearer

We have been working with one of our beta testers in the USA of late to help identify further enhancements to both the hardware and the software. The problem the tester faced was something which affects a lot of industry